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The baoulé is one of the largest akan groups in the ivory coast, living in the middle of the country ... moreThe baoulé is one of the largest akan groups in the ivory coast, living in the middle of the country between the rivers bandama and n'zi, who have come to play a relatively important role in the recent history of the ivory coast, becoming one of the most widespread ethnicities throughout the country, enjoying an economy based primarily on agriculture, especially in the southern forests, where they are amongst the most numerous planters of cocoa, rubber and coffee. They have thus been able to progressively create a politically considerable and economically affluent community, which has in turn given rise to a strong ritual and artistic heritage. This elegant, well-polished and equally well proportioned female figure has a finely carved face, rendered with the semi-circular half-closed eyes typical of the baoulé style, the high, domed forehead, heart-shaped face, an elongated elegant nose and rounded cheeks converging into a small, protuberant mouth. As an enhancement of her sexual desirability, the lips are painted in bright red. Her physique is naturalistically feminine, with beautifully shaped full breasts and delicate limbs. She stands in a characteristic pose with the right hand resting on the upper thigh while the left bent at the elbow, legs spread apart and knees slightly flexed. The detailing below her slender neck is much more sensitively rendered, although a certain amount of attention has been paid to the head, lovingly embellished by a final touch enhancing her outstanding beauty, a polka-dot red-lined headscarf. Besides a leopard skin one-piece and a pair of open-toed high-heeled mules, our figure is completely nude. The baoulé religious world consists of three spheres: the domain of god (niamien), the earthly world (where human beings, animals and plants live, as well as supernatural beings with vast powers who reside in the mountains, rocks, rivers, forests, etc.) And the otherworld (blolo) an alternate universe parallel to the earthly world of the living. The latter is the spirit world, the point of origin for the spirits of newborns and the place where the spirits of the ancestors reside. The baoulé also believe the each person has a mate in the blolo and this mate can be summoned in aid, to resolve problems occurring in the earthly world; in which case a “blolo statue”, or mate spouse is commissioned and carved. Male spirit spouses are called blolo bian; females are called blolo bla. While the identity of this piece is uncertain, it is probably a blolo bla sculpture – a female spirit spouse to whom a man was “married”, and through which he would receive spiritual guidance. These figures are traditionally made to represent the ideal spouse: beautiful, serene women, expressing the marital intentions of the person for whom the piece was made. They represent the ideal maidens of our desires made tangible, in wood. On a different note, the study of clothes and accessories may often illuminate certain facets of life and personal appearance always alludes to the power and the messages items of clothing may generally project. By the early 20th century, mules were often associated with prostitutes whereas leopard-print underwear in today’s pop culture often connotes sensuality and promiscuity. Whenever a human sees the pattern of a predator such as leopard spots, there is a significant amount of subconscious instinctual fear activated in the centre of the brain; this subconscious fear creates a general arousal which is often translated or perceived to the conscious mind as sexual interest, attributable to the attractiveness of the object which is being looked at. Last but not least, a spotted pattern is easily recognizable and instantly catches the attention. Whether a blolo bla statue commissioned to assist a man over his hour of need or the figure of a prostitute made to appeal to a french colonialist, our figure is exquisitely intriguing and seductively desirable, a statement and a testament of the colonial period for our 21st century admiration. Provenance: the herbert baker collection. less
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